Charges have been laid against the Courier Mail for breaching the Family Law Act during its coverage of a custody battle involving four Italian sisters. The sisters had been ordered to be returned to Italy under Australia’s obligation to the international treaty on child abduction and the story had raised widespread criticism amongst the Australian public.
In 2012 the AFP launched an investigation into the newspaper after it was revealed that they had published the names and photographs of the sisters at the centre of the international dispute. The images were printed on the front page and throughout the paper on May 15 and 16 2012, prompting complaints from the Chief Justice of the Family Court and various other legal and media commentators.
The Courier Mail was served with a summons in early March 2014 to appear in the Brisbane District Court to face charges that they had deliberately disregarded the law, which prohibits the Australian media from identifying anyone in Family Court proceedings.
Despite the sensational coverage of the proceedings by all media outlets throughout Australia and overseas, the Courier Mail’s conduct was described as being in the worst category as they had intentionally identified the family members in four newspapers across one week in May 2012.
District Court Justice Terence Martin said the journalist of the paper had been warned multiple times by court staff members and legal officers about the ramifications of identifying the family in the proceedings, and described the conduct as “persistent and seriously offending in deliberate defiance of the law”.
Justice Martin found that the Newspaper had placed the story and its own commercial gain ahead of its legal obligations.
Although the Newspaper was ultimately fined $30,000 per breach at a total of $120,000, they avoided the maximum penalty of $33,000 per breach as the judge took into account the newspaper’s lack of criminal history and its contribution to the community.
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